The lovely Rachel is back today (if you missed it, you can read the first post in the series here), with more on setting up a business, and more specifically, what led her from her career in stage management, to setting up her own wedding dress boutique.
I love that Rachel saw a gap in the market, realised what was missing, and went for it. So many of us complain about things, or say we would do things differently, but so few of us actually put ourselves out there and actually do it. Rachel did.
So why a vintage wedding dress boutique? The job I trained for and did for 6 years before opening the boutique was stage management in theatre – sitting in the dark backstage providing script prompts to actors to helping brides find their dream dress for their big day might not seem the most obvious career path!
But in a way, I feel like everything I’ve done up to this point has just been the prequel to me actually opening and running the boutique. Admission time – I have been a bridesmaid 7 times. And my friends call me ‘Rachel the professional bridesmaid’. My bridesmaid career started at 3 years old when my god-parents got married. It was a glorious 80′s affair with me and my sister dressed in the same peach frilly Laura Ashley dresses and I loved it.
But it’s been being bridesmaid to my girl friends in the last few years that has really meant the world to me. I see being a bridesmaid as something to be taken pretty seriously, and when done well, it can really cement a friendship, give you masses of fresh respect and love for each other, and give you the opportunity to provide that all important support to a friend – a kind of support that is very different to the support their future husband or family can give them. Alongside the emotional support, I’ve often taken quite a organisational role as a bridesmaid – putting together little kits when a friend gets engaged, helping with dress research, phoning bridal shops to make appointments, etc. I have been known to put together a full production schedule for a particularly hectic day of dress shopping!
And with each group of girls we have always had fun on a day of dress shopping but to be completely honest, that enjoyment came from us all being together and making an effort – the actual experiences we had in bridal shops was often, in my opinion, severely lacking. Things that I thought were just not on seem to be fairly common – prices not being displayed, dresses way beyond the bride’s budget being brought out, time restrictions on appointments, no real help if the bride wasn’t sure what style would suit her, lots of potential brides in the same room together, having to wait months and months for your dress – the list goes on. One horrible experience sticks in my mind - us bridesmaids were in the group changing room of a big bridal shop while our bride was trying on dresses and beside us was the mother of another bride who was trying on dresses at the same time. The other bride was having issues with the dresses she was being brought and the shop assistants just weren’t helping – not listening to her and not making her feel comfortable at all. When both brides came out, the mother of the other bride started commenting and gushing over our friend in her dress rather than her own daughter! I felt so bad for this girl who should have been having one of the best times of her life, trying on gorgeous dresses and being made to feel fabulous. But because of the environment created by the bridal shop, she probably left feeling totally despondent and under confident.
So during these various underwhelming experiences in bridal shops, I would generally sit there thinking, ‘I would do this differently.’ Actually, ‘I could do this BETTER’.
And so in setting up and developing the boutique, the service and experience that brides and their friends and families receive is absolutely paramount. I close the whole boutique for appointments so that the bride can try on as many dresses as she likes in total privacy and with my undivided attention. All prices are displayed on the dresses so there are no nasty surprises and as a lot of the dresses are one offs, they can be purchased and taken away the very same day. With the handmade dresses, I work directly with the designer, so alterations and tweaks are positively encouraged to ensure the dress is as perfect as it possibly can be. And I pride myself on really listening to each bride and gauging just how much input they want / need – some brides want brutally honest feedback from me and for others, it’s about me stepping back and allowing a conversation to take place between the bride and her mother or friend or whoever.
It’s a total delight to be able to make such personal connections with people at such exciting and important times in their lives. I kind of see myself as an honorary bridesmaid for each bride that comes into the boutique – after all, that’s a role I’ve been in training for my whole life!